Canadian Anthropology Society (CASCA)
Association for Political and Legal Anthropology
Cosponsored - Oral Presentation Session
The United States Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) has a long history of involvement in the development of contemporary Alaska Native art. Beginning in the 1930s, New Deal programs stemming from the Indian Arts and Crafts Board (IACB) began actively engaging with Alaska Native artists to develop handmade products that could be marketable to outside consumers, particularly seasonal tourists that visited Alaska in the summers. While these early marketing programs were marginally successful, reliance on seasonal tourist sales was not sufficient to economically support artists in rural Alaskan villages throughout the year. In response, the IACB implemented training programs in the 1960s designed to bolster skills in craftsmanship and explore the creation of objects that could be marketed as fine art to a more discerning consumer base that existed outside of the seasonally-driven tourist market. With the aid of Iñupiaq scholar and artist Ronald Senungetuk (b. 1933), the IACB implemented several training programs with mixed results between the various regions of Alaska. These inconsistencies were tied to cultural aspects of the participating communities and exposed complexities in executing standardized programs in a state as diverse as Alaska. The passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) in 1971 signaled changing attitudes towards federal involvement in Alaska and gave rise to Indigenously-driven programs and state-funded organizations in the maintenance of cultural activities, including art production. This paper will explore the successes and shortcomings of 1960s era IACB programs and to what extent these programs might be successfully implemented again today.